SCC Student Now Irish Royalty
For more about Maiden of the Mournes
To learn more about the Maidens of the Mournes competition, click here.
If you are a member of Facebook, click here for a link that provides various videos and photos from the competition.
A Southern Pines resident is now Irish royalty.
Liz Schilling, an art student at Sandhills Community College, was crowned the 2010 Maiden of the Mournes Friday evening in Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland.
Maidens of the Mournes is a personality competition for single, young women between the ages of 18 and 25 from any nationality.
Schilling joined the ranks of 20 other maidens crowned from various countries, including the United States, England, Ireland, Canada and Spain. She said she was shocked to hear her name called at the competition.
"I thought, 'Maybe they read it wrong,'" she said. "I didn't think I'd win at all. I just thought it would be a great week."
In addition to her crown, Schilling received a 1,000-pound cash prize, equivalent to $1,571.70, along with a bouquet of flowers and gifts from local sponsors.
Schilling traveled to Newry County Down in Northern Ireland with a delegation of 17 other Southern Pines residents led by Denise Baker, an art professor at Sandhills Community College, and Frank Pierce, a painter and photographer at A Southern Studio, as a part of a sister cities program between Newry and Southern Pines.
The group spent 10 days in Newry County Down and celebrated at the Maidens of the Mournes Festival, an annual international festival offering a wide range of activities, including concerts, outdoor entertainment, sporting competitions, parades and children's events, along with the Maidens of the Mournes competition.
Schilling was one of 13 girls from Ireland, Poland, England and the United States asked to participate in a variety of activities for the competition, including visiting local shops, council offices and the city hall in Belfast, where they met the Lord Mayor.
They also toured the Mourne Mountains, visited a typical cottage, sampled Irish food and music, and participated in the festival's entertainment.
Each girl also had to go through a personal interview with the judges and perform during the competition. Schilling performed a piano composition titled "Song From a Secret Garden."
Schilling said that even though the week was full of activities, she enjoyed bonding with the girls in the competition.
"They were really sweet," Schilling said. "You felt like you were leaving your best friend at the end of the week."
Schilling said she also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the community on a personal level.
"It was more than a handshake and a smile," she said.
Schilling said Ireland was always a destination of choice in her dream of traveling the world. When she heard about the competition from Baker, she jumped at the chance to go and quickly applied.
"Ireland was first priority," she said. "It just has this mystery about it. When I heard about the competition, I thought it would be a perfect, grand time to see Ireland."
Schilling answered questions about her life, her involvement in the community and the town she lived in on the applications. During the second round of interviews, she participated in a telephone interview.
Schilling looks back on the entire experience as a blinding leap.
"But it was worth it," she added.
Schilling will return to Northern Ireland for the festival next August to pass on her crown.
Over the next year, she will also help organize more events involving the sister city program locally and opening up Southern Pines to the connections established through the program.
The sister city committee hopes to begin sending representatives to the competition each year, now that Schilling has brought home the crown.
Schilling looks forward to helping applicants as they go through the process.
"When the next girl is chosen next spring, I really hope to be able to let her know what it's all about and what to expect and to let her know she's going to have the time of her life!" Schilling said.
Schilling said she realizes the importance of her role within the sister cities program as she symbolizes the link between Southern Pines and Newry.
"It's an honor to represent Southern Pines and now Warrenpoint as well," she said.
Jenna Woronoff, a summer intern at A Southern Studio, also participated in the contest as a teen maiden, a title for young women under the age of 18. She joined the maidens in their activities during the day and participated in events with the delegation in the evenings.
Baker believes the delegation's trip and Schilling's title will help strengthen the relationship between Southern Pines and Newry.
"The girls made lasting friendships," Baker said. "I just think that making face-to-face contact is what's important to a lasting, committed sister city relationship, so it isn't just a PR stunt. It's about commitment. It's about, 'What can we do?'"
Baker also enjoyed the success of the "Photos Across the Atlantic Exhibit," an exhibit that opened during the Maidens of the Mournes that was brought to Ireland by her delegation.
The exhibit, which was also on display during the Palustris Festival, featured photographs submitted by artists from both towns displaying features and characteristics that they loved about their respective areas.
For Baker, Schilling's crown and the exhibit are the culmination of exchanges between the two towns that began with a postcard and a faculty exchange program at SCC.
In 2006, Baker traded her home, car and job with Jasper McKinney, a professor from Southern Regional College in Northern Ireland, as a part of a yearlong project called "Crossing the Atlantic, An Invitation to Communicate."
A postcard exhibit featuring exchanges between the two professors and their family, friends and colleagues was the result of the project that has been on display in both communities. More than 1,375 postcards were sent in the exchange.
Four years later, Baker has not only seen a partnership between the two towns come to fruition, but she has also seen one of her students become a representative for both towns.
"When they called her (Schilling's) name, we about croaked!" she said. "I was just glad to get somebody in the festival, and then to bring home the crown - my angels are working overtime!"
Baker also expressed deep gratitude for the support of both communities and their local colleges throughout the whole process.
Sister Cities International is a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network that seeks to create and strengthen partnerships among international communities.
The program began in 1956 after President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a people-to-people citizen di-plomacy initiative to promote peace and understanding.
Baker said she looks forward to the possibility of more collaboration between the two communities now that residents from both towns have established relationships with each other.
"It's about good will and understanding," Baker said. "It's human connection that gets it started."
For more information about applying for the Maidens of the Mournes contest, or the sister cities program, contact Denise Baker by e-mail at email@example.com.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story